Racial Discrimination in Maryland's Justice System Is Alive and Well

Recently, the United States dominated the Summer Olympics by receiving more medals than any other country in the world. Sadly, the U.S. also leads the world in the number of people it incarcerates - about 2.3 million. And, most people in this country’s prisons and jails are disproportionately African American or Latino.

A few months ago, the Maryland State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a meeting in the state’s capitol to discuss racial differences in Maryland’s criminal justice system. After hearing compelling testimony from national and local experts, including people who were formerly incarcerated, some Advisory Committee members still wondered whether these differences raised civil rights concerns.

What are civil rights? They are opportunities that are offered to each person by the U.S. Constitution and state or federal laws. They include the right to vote, the right to be represented by an attorney in criminal cases, and the right to be protected by the laws of this country regardless of one’s race or gender, for example.

In our view, racial differences in Maryland’s criminal justice system raise civil rights concerns. Let’s consider Baltimore City’s jail system. It incarcerates nearly 4,000 men, women and children on any given day. Eighty-nine percent of the adults held at the jail are African American even though they make up only 64 percent of Baltimore’s general population. Almost everyone held at the jail have only been accused of committing a crime and are awaiting their trial dates.

Now, some may argue that there are more African-Americans in the city jail because they commit more crimes. But, this is not true when it comes to drug offenses, for example. Research has shown that African American and white adults use illegal drugs at about the same rate, but African Americans are more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses nationally and in Maryland. In fact, in Baltimore City, African-American young people consume alcohol and use drugs, such as heroin, at lower rates than their white peers.

Yet, the population of black youth who are charged as adults at the Baltimore jail is 99 percent; that is even higher than the overrepresentation of African-American adults at the jail. Why? Well, according to some national studies African-American youth are often incorrectly seen as more “adult-like” and more responsible for their actions than youth of other races. In fact, at least one study found that black boys were viewed by decision makers to be four years older than they were; therefore, a 14-year old boy could be treated like an 18-year old man. If this is true, then it would appear that African-American young people at the city jail do not receive the same protections or benefits that their white peers receive. This is a civil rights issue.

And if these black boys go to trial, are found guilty and receive a sentence, then they will leave the system with the added burden of a criminal record that may limit their right to vote or deny them access to employment. These are civil rights issues.

In a few months, the Maryland State Advisory Committee is expected to release a report to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights detailing its investigation of racial differences in Maryland’s criminal justice system. We think, without question, that racial discrimination in the state’s justice system is alive and well, and it violates the civil rights of some black and brown people. We hope that the State Advisory Committee will agree, and make recommendations on how to put an end to this practice.

7 Comments

Monique,

Great artical.

Keep on keeping on Monique!

The F.A.C.E Organization want to inform you of our full support for the cause of justice and equality coming into forwishing.

Sincerely,

Marlo A. Hargrove, Sr.
Director of F.A.C.E
Freedom Advocates Celebrating Ex-Offenders
www.facebaltimore.org

The historical facts provide the black community w/a platform to protect our boys/girls. The Black (African-American) must decide to band together for the stoppage of accepting social constructs. According to the Sentencing Project from 2010; a Black male has a 34 percent chance of going to prison and the White male has a 6 percent chance.

R we men of honor? Do men of honor allow their babies to be vulnerable to a pit w/no bottom. There R grave realities for our communities.

Firstly; where R the social workers/ Who do they work for and why R they not working on our issues out front?

Capitalism is a vehicle and not a destination. More to say; but our all of business should not be public.

email me @
lenetowr@usc.edu

God is the Glory.

The historical facts provide the black community w/a platform to protect our boys/girls. The Black (African-American) must decide to band together for the stoppage of accepting social constructs. According to the Sentencing Project from 2010; a Black male has a 34 percent chance of going to prison and the White male has a 6 percent chance.

R we men of honor? Do men of honor allow their babies to be vulnerable to a pit w/no bottom. There R grave realities for our communities.

Firstly; where R the social workers/ Who do they work for and why R they not working on our issues out front?

Capitalism is a vehicle and not a destination. More to say; but our all of business should not be public.

email me @
lenetowr@usc.edu

God is the Glory.

I heard you read this commentary on WEAA last week. The stats you cited stopped me cold in my tracks that morning. I was planning to call the station to ask how could I get a copy of it but decided first to try searching for it online.

Anyway - I have to take my pulse every now and then just to remind myself that this is really happening to us. It's not some fiction. Yet it is an altered and ugly reality for Blacks living in America.

These statistics reflect and are connected to the realities and perceptions Blacks experience everyday outside of the criminal justice system, well before before they would even encounter the criminal justice system. They are why a tall lanky Black kid talking on the phone to his girlfriend while carrying nothing but a bag of skittles and a bottle of ice tea can be labelled suspicious and shot dead a few blocks away from his father's house and for his murder to be called justifiable (before the public outcry) under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

In regards to criminal justice disparities in Baltimore, I'm not too surprised. I will never forget a radio interview I heard on WYPR where a state prosecutor, touting her own statistics, said if we can just keep "them" locked up until they are 40 because statistics show that men forty and older are less likely to commit crimes. I was blown away by that logic and the power she possessed to act upon it. But the really scary bit of about what she said is that in her mind (and in the minds of dozens of folks like her irrespective of their race or ethnicity) she really "meant well".

Now, some may argue that there are more African-Americans in the city jail because they commit more "crimes. But, this is not true when it comes to drug offenses, for example. Research has shown that African American and white adults use illegal drugs at about the same rate, but African Americans are more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses nationally and in Maryland. "

Though this fact does support your point. What about burglaries. Do non-hisbanic whites and Asians as a percentage of the population steal/commit burglary (home robberies, car jackings) more than say African
Americans. Do you have the statistics for that? And if you do why didn't you cite that statistic in the article too. And if you didn't, you should look that statistic up. In fact you should look up other crimes, and you will find that your overall conclusions are flawed. You see drug abuse is the least of the crimes commited. African Americans are paying for other crimes such as mugging and theft. Of course these high crime rates are most likely products of segregation and serious cultural differences that arise from that. That would have been a better article and more to the point. Your article does not really tell the truth.

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